Welcome… and by the way, APRIL FOOL!
Welcome to the home page of Presta Inc., the fictional company created by Recording Magazine over 20 years ago as a source for unlikely and wonderfully silly bits of music technology!
Recording is the only pro audio magazine in the world that routinely posts April Fools’ Day content of various sorts; we don’t mind devoting a page or two per year to remind our readers that a lot of what goes on in the audio industry’s darker corners is of suspect believability, and while we love getting a laugh out of our readers, we also want them to think as well.
In many cases, the parody products we list here are inspired by real ones being sold to gullible buyers… and the profusion of social media has made it easier than ever to spread misinformation and lies in order to make a fast buck.
Please join me in a historical stroll through the many famous and infamous products that Presta has brought to our readers!—Mike Metlay, Consulting Editor
April 1995: The Presta Digitator—The One That Started It All
In our April 1995 issue, we announced the Digitator STR-8 Digital Applicator, the first product from then-unknown manufacturer Presta. The Digitator was the brainchild of then-Editor Nick Batzdorf, who was getting thoroughly sick of the then-popular trend of starved-tube saturation hardware that was supposed to give “analog warmth” to digital tracks. Nick decided to turn the idea on its head by inventing the Digitator—”a unique processor that breathes new life into dated analog equipment by adding a refreshing digital coldness to the sound.” It was a simple 24-input box with no controls and input stages ending in 8-bit A/D converters; you hit it harder to add more aliasing and distortion, to taste.
“In these tube-crazy days, it’s wonderful to see a company that dares to buck the trend,” wrote Batzdorf under the pseudonym of Didier Godijiet (“Did you get it yet”, apparently—Nick was always a hair obscure with those things). The scary thing is… it eventually became a real product! A year or two after the review came out, someone at Opcode Systems took inspiration (directly or otherwise) from the article and created the Lo-Fi plug-in, leading to a whole cottage industry in bit-reduction and sample-rate-mangling software. Life imitates art, we guess.
April 1997: The Presta Red Button—The One That Everybody Thought Was Real
Presta returned in April 1997 with the Red Button Tube Audio Processor Platform… and this one sort of bit us in the tail. It was my idea—I’d been at Recording for just under a year as Assistant Editor, and was encouraged to write up an April Fools’ article in the spirit of the Digitator, which I’d loved upon reading about it. With tube mania stronger than ever, my idea was to add tube warmth to DAWs in the most direct and brutal way possible: a PCI card that went inside your computer and gave you four tube-based input channels with a three full-voltage vacuum tubes per channel, powered by its own 240V power cable (“like the ones used on clothes dryers, an ideal arrangement for basement studios”). The review described in lurid detail how the Red Button fried our first test computer due to a high-voltage arc (“New users should remember it’s dangerous to get going without a rubber sheath on”) and melted our second one under the heat load, even though the cards kept right on processing audio (“Now that’s reliable”).
I used the pseudonym Max Barkatansky (“He’s Mad. Wouldn’t you be?”), which I learned years later was actually supposed to be “Max Rockatansky”—that’s what I get for having watched Mad Max in the overdubbed version. The scary thing is… despite the insane hyperbole and obviously over-the-top description, a lot of readers at the time believed that the Red Button was real! We listed our phone number as Presta’s, and it rang off the hook with over fifty legitimate requests from readers who were angry when they learned about the joke—not because they were fooled, but because they wanted one and it didn’t exist. Go figure.
April 1998: The Inferno—One Hot Property
Presta’s April 1998 offering was the Inferno Multitrack CD Recorder, a new class of desktop digital recorder. I took “credit” for this sneak preview of a machine shown at NAMM, which took the trend of “we need more digital recording capacity in a cheaper format and we need it now” to its illogical conclusion. The Inferno was a recorder that used ordinary CDs from your collection as a medium, burning up to 128 tracks of 24/96 audio onto the disc with up to 2 hours of recording time per track without affecting the original data on the CD.
It did this with a combination of an extraordinarily high disc rotation speed (“Presta recommends using it only when bolted to a concrete floor—an ideal arrangement for basement studios”) and an extremely short-wavelength read/write laser using gamma rays (“they did recommend against working too close to the recorder for long periods, and that male users abstain from marital relations for a few days after a session if they are trying to have healthy children”).
This one got some compliments in the mail, but thank heavens, no one believed it was real. Honestly I was worried at the time…
April 2001: WireX—The One That Nearly Got Us Sued
In April 2001, Presta returned to our pages with a review of WireX, a plug-in that riffed on the rapidly-growing idea of circuit modeling in what we thought was an amusing way. This one was written by Nick and me under the completely random pen-name of Andre ‘Beasley’ Rice, and described a plug-in that modeled the cables connecting all the virtual gear in your software-based studio together, from cheap cables to expensive audiophile types, with a variety of connectors (including wire-wrap and cold solder joints) and even the ability to pile up extra cable near a virtual AC line to add hum. A special touch was the ability to specify cable direction (“we all know how plugging in a wire backwards can drastically affect the sound, especially at 24 bits”).
The problem with this one wasn’t the article… it was the illustration, a mockup of a Digidesign RTAS plug-in window. No sooner did a copy of the magazine get to Digi HQ than we received a furious phone call from a senior executive threatening legal action for stealing the look and feel of a Pro Tools plug-in… followed about a half hour later by a sheepish return call apologizing for having called us before reading the piece. Yikes.
April 2002: TIHZTOH—Prescient, Insane, Or Both?
Our April 2002 NAMM Report featured a new Presta product called Totally Integrated High-Z-Tolerant Omnidirectional Hierarchy, a huge mouthful that was abbreviated TIHZTOH (look at it in a mirror). This one came from then-Assistant Editor Matt Zlaten, who described a system where 64-channel digital audio could be transmitted over a city’s power grid from building to building, with multiple streams on the same grid able to ignore one another (with crosstalk “limited to no more than –36 dBFS”). The entry ended with a comment that the two hotels where Presta had set up their demo both lost power at the same time, and that Presta blamed rolling blackouts and Enron.
We chuckled about it at the time. Nowadays, with smart homes and people sending data over the AC wiring in their homes, it’s not quite as ludicrous as it used to be…
April 2003: The DAFT 4-1—And You Thought Auto-Tune Was Bad?
This review was written for us by audio-industry business consultant and occasional contributor Tom Volinchak, who pitched the idea to then-Editor Lorenz Rychner, who loved it. The review described Presta’s Digital/Analog Forehead Trainer (DAFT 4-1), which was described as an all-analog way to correct singer intonation without yucky plug-ins. This one was sadistic on a level well beyond anything we’d come up with in-house! The idea of the DAFT 4-1 was that it married a pitch-sensing circuit to a headband around the singer’s forehead that would deliver electroshock punishment every time the singer drifted off key. The “test” ended badly, when the vocalist changed key, the machine didn’t recognize that, and nearly electrocuted him before Tom figured out what was wrong.
Our reader mail on this one was a bit disturbing: some people thought it was an excellent commentary on intonation software, some thought it was an excellent commentary on prima donna singers, and some just plain wanted to buy one, for reasons they didn’t elaborate upon.
April 2008: Pedl2DaMetl—There Goes The Boom
This NAMM announcement was for Presta’s Pedl2DaMetl, a new guitar amp simulation plug-in that got around the fact that simulations weren’t very good at modeling actual speakers yet. It did this by routing audio through a DAW computer’s external speakers and picking it up again with the microphone. This, of course, would create an infinite feedback loop in real life, and as we reported, “Demos were plentiful early in the show, but petered out toward the end as the Presta booth ran out of unexploded laptops—but as a rep informed us, ‘Hey, it’s still in beta.’ ”
April 2012: LevelsIntoDaRed—Equality (Way) Uber Alles!
We slipped this one into a review of another (real) product, McDSP LouderLogic—an iOS utility that used early loudness-based level adjustment to smooth out the playback of tracks mastered at widely different levels. At the end, we talked about the competing product LevelsIntoDaRed, which accomplished the same thing by massively overloading every song well above 0 dBFS so every song is at the same level, i.e. completely clipped. When we pointed this out, the Presta reps accused us of whining.
April 2013: Squish—Feel The Music
Our 2013 NAMM report included Presta’s Squish, a prototype touchscreen that really allows users to reach into displayed data to move waveforms and grab notes. By the second day of the trade show, the booth was empty—the Presta folks had to leave in a hurry after multiple complaints of the Squish giving visitors nasty electric shocks.
April 2014: App4AppingHappyApps—There’s Such A Thing As Too Much Truth In Advertising
Data mining and crowdsourcing were ideas that were cropping up everywhere this year, and we celebrated it with a Presta product announcement in our 2014 NAMM report. App4AppingHappyApps was an app that gathered user feedback and existing reviews, running it through an Artificial Intelligence system to help users separate great apps from bad ones.
At the booth, we demoed the app by typing in its own name, and immediately were given the response: “Company reputation terrible—avoid at all costs.”
April 2018: Pure Vintage Cables—These Cables Are History™!
This one was a quick and brilliant idea from new writer Walter Stites (who has since written serious articles for us as well). He talked about Presta buying a whole bin full of cables ripped out of a famous Hollywood recording studio during an upgrade and selling them as “the cables used on many of the greatest recordings of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.”
Walter played up the love of many engineers for vintage this and vintage that by claiming that you couldn’t get a purely vintage sound if you connected a vintage mic to a vintage preamp with a brand-new cable. He touted features like oxygen-rich cable (to let the signal breathe), rubber shielding for naturally bouncy dynamics, Eaten-Thru™ jackets and Relic-Quality™ connectors. Wonderful stuff, and it gave me and Scott a much-needed break from coming up with this madness ourselves…
April 2019: The Emperor MoJo’q—The One That Fooled US
My very last April Fool Presta article as Editor turned out as a surprise to everyone… even me. Walter Stites graced our pages once again with the MoJo’q, a rack processor from Presta’s new analog gear division Emperor. The article was pretty obviously about how one can convince oneself of anything if pressured hard enough, and how certain unscrupulous vendors are happy to do the convincing… and that still came across (reasonably) well to most folks.
However, if you have the printed edition of the April 2019 issue laying around, you should flip to the back page and compare it to the unpublished pre-press version (in downloadable PDF form below). You’ll notice that the unpublished version of the layout contains an extra image at the bottom, annotated in red by Yours Truly:
April 2019 Presta MoJo’q Review
The original punchline was that if you actually looked inside the welded-shut case of the MoJo’q (as shown in the “unauthorized” photo that we ran “by accident”), you’d find the input directly wired to the output—i.e. it did nothing to the signal at all—so the effect of the processor was entirely in the minds of people who convinced themselves that they heard something.
The problem was, apparently the Art Department did such a good job of making the “do not run this” annotation look authentic that someone very carefully made sure that it did not run!
And so, the Emperor’s New Processor got a fittingly invisible reveal of its invisibility. The irony is exquisite… and a warning to my successors as Editor of Recording to always, always, always let the Art and Production staff know when something fishy’s going to press in April.
Beyond Presta: Our Other April Offerings
Not every April article needed the Presta logo. Sometimes we were able to “gotcha” our readers with other kinds of articles:
April 1999: Audio Data Fonts
This “tutorial” explained the idea that if digital audio was all just ones and zeros being written on a hard disk, then sound quality would be affected for better or worse by the font that one used when doing the writing. The idea behind this one was to poke fun at both the ridiculous claims of some audio companies about “audio-friendly data storage” and the idea that writing to disk was like writing with a pencil or word processor. Sadly, we got at least one letter from a conspiracy theorist thanking us for revealing the Truth about why the big audio corporations were fooling innocent buyers.
April 2000: Stalking The Wild Booth Babe
This report from the 2000 NAMM Show, which was perhaps the last hurrah of the heavily-sexist habits of many exhibitors that made NAMM famous in previous years, was done in the style of a “TV Nature Show” report, and described the efforts of three companies to preserve the dwindling population of Booth Babes in the wild. Sadly, this one wasn’t made up: every single thing we described, from the “bikinis in the hot tub” to the “pose for a picture with a real live woman” booth, was real. Thank heavens, most of that crap had gone the way of the dodo within a couple more years.
April 2004: And Now, A Word From The Publishers
This one was meant to sting, and it did. In the previous month, I’d written an editorial about how my involvement with the industry meant that every software developer was a human face to me, so that pirating software had a direct impact on people I knew and cared about. Apparently some of our readers decided that they didn’t like being reminded that stealing software actually hurt people, so they wrote to me and complained about various “logical fallacies” blah blah blah. As a response (and as a gentle dig at software firms whose massively restrictive licensing practices made theft prevention more of a hassle than it needed to be, prompting users to use “cracked” versions of products they’d paid for), I wrote up a fictitious licensing scheme for our magazine, threatening legal action against people who shared their copy with friends or let people read over their shoulder.
April 2006: A New Way To Hear Audio
This one talked about a new recording method that offered significant advantages over existing digital formats: Aleph Null Audio, which used a unique encoding method to store sound at effectively infinite bit depth and sample rate. Of course, the group developing it was the Aleph Null Audio Logistical Operations Group (ANALOG), and the article was just a description of analog recording as one might describe it to people who had never used or heard of anything other than digital audio. (Special thanks to Dr. Shigatsu Baka, consultant. Three guesses what “Shigatsu Baka” means in Japanese.)
April 2007: Recording’s Gamelan Column
The “joke” in this one was that we felt gamelan was a popular enough sound source to require its own monthly column. The actual article, however, was a straight-up applications piece by Scott Dorsey on recording gamelan instruments, which turn out to be pretty challenging for the novice.
April 2008: Remember—Louder Is Better
This one came in after our Presta item but was run anyway, and it was a bit problematic. Scott Dorsey described the process of crushing dynamics and boosting gain to make records absolutely as loud as possible—the core of the Loudness Wars. The problem is, his description was so accurate and straight-faced that many readers took it as gospel. We shudder to think of the damage we did with that one!
April 2010: Loudness—It’s The Law!
This guest editorial discussed the battle between proponents of the new legislation called Audio Performance and Recording Industry Levels (APRIL) and its detractors the Friends Of Our Levels (FOOL). The new legislation would remove volume sliders from all audio gear, with dynamic range crushed to nonexistence and one legally-mandated playback level for everyone. The article reported region-encoded levels that would prevent foreign mics from being used in the USA, and China’s refusal to adhere to the legislation, leading to a potentially disastrous flood of gear that still had level controls.
April 2011: Miking The Apple iPad
This was an article on the iPad, which was a relatively new device at the time and was rapidly becoming popular for all sorts of studio applications. In this one, though, we were describing how to mic one—as in, how to record the sound it made when you hit it. We had photos of an iPad being hit by a kick drum beater and sticks, the latter complete with the corner of the tablet being muffled by an Old Jersey Drum Wallet (a real product). Special thanks to Associate Publisher Brent Heintz, who demonstrated brilliant stick technique for the snare photo.
April 2015: Tune Into The Magic Frequency—Not
This month’s editorial by Scott Dorsey was a deliberate “anti-April-Fool” article. In a departure from our usual fare, Scott took the opportunity to debunk the idea circulating around the smellier crevices of the Internet that there was a “magic frequency” that would make everything sound better if you boosted it. Scott dissected this idea and offered some good advice on when and how to boost and cut certain frequencies, and why those frequencies might seem “magical” to the uninitiated.
April 2016: The ZVEX Candela Vibrophase
This NAMM entry was mentioned because at first glance it seemed to be an April Fool’s joke, but actually wasn’t. This fantastically expensive piece of handmade artwork was a steampunk sculpture that used the light and heat of a simple tea-light candle to run a simple engine, turning a wheel through which the candlelight would be seen by a photocell and in turn create organically beautiful vibrato and phasing effects. No AC required—plug in your guitar, light the candle, let it heat up for a minute, and off you go!
April 2017: Better Recordings Through Better Recording Musicians
The fewer gory details about this month’s editorial, the better: Scott Dorsey wrote about surgical techniques to help musicians play better: extra arms for doubleneck guitars, longer fingers for greater keyboard reach, massively increased hearing frequency response for engineers… and, of course, the Electromagnetic Tape-Erasing Finger Of Death™.
But Wait, There’s More!
We’re very proud of the many contributions Presta has made to the world of recording—parodying and debunking all kinds of “wisdom” that we’re really better off without. We plan to keep doing so for as long as we can, so come back and see what else is new!